Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Bus Éireann and Irish Rail: The Neville brothers of public transport

A visual representation of the state of Irish transport. Trains > buses.

I have often tried calculating how many bus journeys I have enjoyed/endured with Bus Éireann. I spent six years being ferried back and forth between Killarney and Tralee for secondary school. So, let's see; Every school year has a minimum of 167 days. Say I missed an average of a week of school each year (I don't think I did), that'd be 160 days. Two buses a day at 160 days means 320 bus journeys every year for six years which works out at 1920 bus journeys. Phew. When you factor in that I used to visit Tralee very regularly during the summer and winter holidays as well to visit friends, I'm easily breaking 2000 bus journeys with Bus Éireann. What an ignominious honour. 

And you know what those 2000 odd journeys have given me? A burning, seething hatred for Bus Éireann. I hate Bus Éireann so much that I, someone who when they were in first year of college was quite literally a card-carrying socialist, actually wishes they were privatised. Everything that reminds me of Bus Éireann, from that prick of a red setter to the once amusing "Stand Clear, Luggage doors operate" soundbite, makes my skin crawl. The poor service, the punctuality (or lack thereof), the exponential rise in prices every couple of years. It's now €17.50 for a single student ticket from Cork to Killarney. €17.50!

Particularly when it comes to punctuality I trust them about as much as you'd trust an alcoholic guarding a wine cellar. Two weeks ago, I needed to get a bus from Cork to Limerick. I needed to be in Limerick for 5 but I took the 2.25 bus that was scheduled to arrive into Limerick at 4. I did this because I knew, I knew, that the 3.25 bus that was scheduled to arrive in at 5  would not get me into Limerick on time. Sure enough we arrived into Limerick 45 minutes late at 4.45 but thanks to my earlier presence of mind I still made it to my appointment on time. I didn't even think this was strange initially. It was instinctive. It was only when I was on the bus, pondering ruefully the philosophy class I had missed in order to catch the earlier bus, that i thought to myself, "Hang on, this can't be normal. They don't do this in other countries, do they?" 

Now, I don't place all of the blame on the drivers and the staff at the stations, they generally do their best given the circumstances. One of the reasons the buses are always late is because our roads are so terrible. I mean, that bus from Cork to Limerick would only be 40 minutes if we had a motorway between the two cities but instead we have to travel through that triumvirate of North Cork shitholes; Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville. 

Like so many things in Ireland, our poor bus service is just symptomatic of larger problems. Lack of investment in roads. Lack of investment in motorways that don't just lead to Dublin. Lack of investment in human resources. Poor planning. There is no one reason why our bus service is so terrible; it's a veritable menagerie of cock-ups. 

Because my only real experience with public transport was Bus Éireann, I remember being absolutely blown away by the Tube and the buses the first (and only) time I was in London when I was 15. What an experience that was. If you missed one tube there was another one following it in two minutes. Sure, you were packed like sardines into them but you'd get used to that. I had never imagined them to be that good as the supposed poor quality of British public transport was a frequent punchline for British comedians on panel shows. Christ, I thought, I'd love to take them on a bus journey from Killarney to Tralee. They'd have enough material to last them for months. 

Since starting college in Cork recently I have been using Irish Rail a lot more frequently. Trains are quantifiably, undeniably nicer than buses. Leg room, toilets, tables, they've got the lot. Even Irish Rail's wi-fi is better than Bus Éireann's. One thing which caught my eye about Irish Rail is that at a lot of train stations they have posters up documenting statistically their punctuality and reliability. For instance, in Killarney Train Station, there is a poster up stating that the Killarney-Mallow train is on time 94.4% of the time while it has a 99% reliability (what 'reliability' actually means I can't remember but I presume that means that it turns up and has enough room for all passengers). Can you imagine if Bus Éireann were to publish such posters? It would be hilarious. The punctuality statistics would be an absolute rout. Would they even break 50%? I do wonder. 

But, disregarding Bus Éireann's ineptitude, rail transport is naturally superior, isn't it? As an experience, I mean. Its only letdown is it generally costs more (Though with some online offers you can get with Irish Rail that is up for debate). That and they seem to have a slightly higher proportion of mentalist passengers than buses, in my experience. But, like buses, our rail network has fallen victim to poor planning and short-term thinking too. 

In the 20th century, our railway network was superseded by the primacy of the car and of the motorway. At the beginning of the last century there were 54 train stations/stops in Kerry covering all four corners of the county. Yes, 54. Today there are four. This map will give you a good idea of just how much Ireland's rail network has receded in the last 100 years. Dublin's tramways stretched the length and breadth of the city and beyond long before most Dubs knew what the word Luas even meant. They were dug up and covered over to make way for roads, cars and buses.Maybe that's progress. The replacing of railways with cars and motorways happened in just about every other developed country in the world too. But, in my eyes, it's still a shame.

So, to finally address the point I make in the title, how exactly are Bus Éireann and Irish Rail like the Neville brothers? Well, Irish Rail is like Gary. Reliable, sturdy, consistent. Not spectacular by any means but a 7/10 performance every time. Bus Éireann is Phil. They do their best but they're limited and indecisive. You're never quite sure if they'll actually turn up. It's a bit of a ham-fisted analogy (I think I'm being very harsh on Phil Neville if I'm honest) I'll admit but, while this isn't saying much, it makes some sense in my head. 

*Disclaimer: While in parts this may read like an ad for Irish Rail it is worth remembering that both Irish Rail and Bus Éireann are subsidiaries of the statutory corporation CIE (Córas Iompar Éireann) which is itself, of course, owned by the government. So by shitting one and praising the other I'm playing a delicate balancing act.

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